One Blueberry Plant, Two Crops!

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‘Perpetua’ ornamental reflowering blueberry. Photo: Chadd Finn

If you want to grow your own blueberries, I have just the variety you’re looking for: ‘Perpetua’ (Vaccinium x ‘Perpetua’), which you might also see sold as BrazzleBerry™ Perpetua® (the old name), Bushel and Berry™ Perpetua® (the new name) or ORUS-61-1. You see, this new blueberry produces two crops each year, one in mid-summer, like other blueberries, then the new growth bursts into bloom a second time, resulting in a second crop just before the plants goes dormant for the winter. And two crops are always better than one!

A Quick History

In 1963, a fall-fruiting blueberry, later named CVAC 45, was found in the growing in the wild in Monmouth, Maine and sent to the USDA-ARS National Clone Germplasm Repository in Corvallis, Oregon. Since it was intermediate in size between a highbush blueberry (V. corymbosum) and a lowbush blueberry (V. angustifolia), bore small fruits a like lowbush blueberry, and since both grow wild in the same area, it has long been presumed to be a natural hybrid between the two species: what is known as a half-high blueberry. In culture, it reliably produced two crops each year, one in mid-summer, one from late summer well into fall, without needing any cold treatment for the second crop.

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Chadd Finn, hybridizer of the ‘Perpetua’ blueberry. Photo supplied by Chadd Finn

Hybridizer Chad E. Finn, a research geneticist and small fruit breeder with the Horticultural Research Unit in Corvallis, Oregon, harvested and grew open-pollinated seeds from CVAC 45 in 2000, resulting in a wide range of plants, many with the same second autumn-ripening crop. The best of these plants was released under the name ‘Perpetua’, a plant that combined two heavy crops with outstanding ornamental characteristics and excellent winter hardiness.

The name ‘Perpetua’ comes not only from the plant’s nearly perpetual flowering and fruiting, but also honors Cape Perpetua along Oregon’s Pacific coast

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‘Perpetua’ is attractive as it is productive and delicious! Photo: Chadd Finn

‘Perpetua’ is a moderately vigorous, upright, somewhat vase-shaped shrub about 2 ½ feet (75 cm) tall and 2 feet (60 cm) wide with shiny, dark green, disease-resistant leaves. It bears a first bloom of small white urn-shaped flowers in early spring followed by fruit in June or July, depending on local conditions. Shortly after fruiting, new flowers appear from new growth and it begins bearing fruit a second time starting from August/September well into October, only stopping with hard frost. The foliage remains dark green until fairly late in the fall, finally turning purplish red.

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Attractive flowers are followed by delicious berries. Photo: Chadd Finn.

The new blueberry is self-pollinating (an important detail, as there will be no other blueberries in flower when it blooms for the second time) and easy to grow, hardy to at least zone 4. Like most blueberries, it does need a lengthy period of cold temperatures in winter, so will not be adapted to mild climates (zones 9 and above).

More to Come

‘Perpetua’ may be the first commercially available double-cropping blueberry, but it certainly won’t be the last. Keep your eyes and ears open. More will certainly “crop up” over the years!

Getting the Soil Right

‘Perpertua’ requires no special care beyond what all blueberries need… and all blueberries do require extra attention when it comes to soil.

 

As fall comes to a close, there are both berries and attractively-colored leaves to admire. Photo: Pépinière Abbotsford

As with other ericaceous plants (rhododendrons, azaleas, heathers, etc.), blueberries need moist, loose, well-drained soils that are distinctly acid, with a pH of about 4.2 to 5.2, and most garden soils are simply not acidic enough. It’s almost always necessary to prepare the soil specially for them. Normally this is done by mixing about 50% peat moss into the existing soil if your soil is already somewhat acid. You’ll probably need to add garden sulfur as well if it’s not. In some areas, you may be able to purchase soil specially developed for acid-loving plants and skip all the mixing. And no, blending pine needles or oak leaves into the soil, even if you often hear this advice, is not going to help: neither product is acidic enough to be of much use.

If the soil in your garden is sandy or loamy and drains well (no puddles form after a heavy rain), dig a hole a few inches deeper than the root ball and 3 times wider. When you plant, set the plant 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7 cm) deeper in the hole than it was in its pot to encourage it to produce roots on the buried part of its stem, then fill in with the modified soil described above.

Blueberries grow poorly in heavy clay soils, even when said soils are amended. Planting holes in such sites tend to fill in with water, resulting in root rot and the plant’s eventual death. If you’re dealing with that situation, it’s best forget about digging the plant in and instead to plant it in raised mound of acid soil.

Either purchase an acid planting mix or mix about 50% peat moss into purchased garden soil. Now simply pour an inch or two (2-5 cm) of soil on the ground, remove the plant from its pot and set it on top, then cover its root ball with a mound about 3 to 4 feet wide, again covering the root ball in soil mix 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7 cm) over its original height to encourage stem rooting.

You can also mix a slow-release all-purpose fertilizer into any soil mix at planting time. Avoid so-called “starter” or “transplanter” fertilizers, though: they actually hinder rooting.

20170317E.jpgAnd what about mycorrhizal fungi, commonly sold as a natural growth enhancers for other fruit trees and small fruits? Regular commercial brands are of no use with blueberries, as they only form a symbiotic relationship with mycorrhizal fungi specific to ericaceous plants and this type is not found in regular blends. There are mycorrhizal products specifically designed for ericaceous plants, such as Rhodovit®, but this type of product is not widely available in North America.

Growing Blueberries

Once you get the soil right, growing blueberries is quite straightforward.

Early spring, when the plants are dormant but the soil is workable, is the best season for planting, although you can plant them in summer or autumn as well.

Blueberries tolerate partial shade, but will bloom and fruit better in fall sun. A spot protected from the wind, especially where snow accumulates, is also preferable.

Space the plants about 3 feet (1 m) apart to give them enough room to grow.

Water well at planting and always keep the soil slightly moist afterwards.

Always cover the soil with about 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7 cm) of mulch. Not only will it help keep keep the soil a just a bit moister, which blueberries love, but also its presence will remind you not to hoe. You see, blueberry produce shallow surface roots and don’t tolerate much root disturbance.

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‘Perpetua’ blueberry. Photo: Chadd Finn

Any mulch you have on hand will do. Again, the idea that pine needles or shredded oak leaves would be in any way superior to other mulches is a myth.

Now for the bad news. It you want your blueberry to settle in properly, you shouldn’t let it flower or fruit until the third year. Yes, remove any flowers that appear during the first two years. After that, let the plant bloom… and begin to enjoy the fruits of your labor!

Finally, over the years, keep up the soil’s quality and richness by fertilizing annually with an acidifying fertilizer. Every few years, at the end of winter, remove longer branches that have become less productive to leave room for heavier-bearing young branches.

That’s all there is to it!

Where to Find Plants?

With some of the biggest wholesale nurseries, such as Monrovia, Stark Bro’s and Bailey Nurseries, carrying ‘Perpetua’, this plant is definitely widely available… but that doesn’t necessarily mean your local garden center will be carrying it. But there is a way to find it quite easily.

A web page for the new Bushel and Berry line is presently being set up and is already partially functional. However, from now until planting time, a new feature is to be added, one that allows you to enter your zip or postal code (yes, Canadian readers, our system is to be included for once!) and it will show you the nurseries closest to you that carry the plant. That should make ‘Perpetua’ far easier to locate than most new plant introductions.

Readers from outside Canada and the US may have to look a bit harder to find ‘Perpertua’. Let’s hope it shows up where you live sometime soon!


A blueberry that provides two crops for twice as much yummy and beauty in the same amount of space? Why not?